Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies – The Saint of Brazil (Part two)

teresa cristina
(public domain)

Read part one here.

The family often spent the winter and spring at São Cristóvão and the summer and autumn at Petrópolis. The Empress and Emperor were affectionate parents, but the sisters’ upbringing was rather sheltered, and they lived their lives outside of the public eye. The sisters learned to read and write with the help of a teacher named Valdetaro, who called them “Little Ladies.” At the age of seven, Isabel was placed in the care of an aio (supervisor) who traditionally oversaw the education of the heir. Pedro realised that Isabel and Leopoldina would need more than the traditional education for girls and wrote, “As to their education I will only say that the character of both the princesses ought to be shaped as suits Ladies who, it may be, will have to direct the constitutional government of an Empire such as that of Brazil. The education should not differ from that given to men, combined with that suited to the other sex, but in a manner that does not detract from the first.”1 Tradition also required that the girls be educated by a woman and Pedro did not believe that there was a suitable woman for this task in Brazil. Pedro turned to his stepmother Empress Amélie (born of Leuchtenberg), but she refused to take up the post. He eventually found a suitable woman with the help of sister Francisca; her name was Luísa Margarida Portugal de Barros, the Countess of Barral.

The Countess of Barral took up her post in 1856 and attracted the immediate dislike of Teresa Cristina, who was the exact opposite of the enigmatic Countess. Yet, she hid her dislike as best she could, not wanting to antagonise her husband. The Countess was also well-liked by the two Princesses, and Isabel became deeply attached to her. By the end of 1850s, both girls were following a strict educational program that lasted 9,5 hours a day, six days a week. The Countess of Barral did not personally teach them all their subjects, but she did supervise. Even their father took it upon himself to teach his daughters. Isabel would later write to her father, “How greatly I thank you for having taught me, for having given me teachers so that I now understand the greater part of the things I see, even though I am ignorant about so much.”

teresa cristina
(public domain)

Despite their excellent education, the sisters were still kept in social seclusion and surprisingly, Pedro also excluded Isabel from the affairs of state. Yet, in 1863 – shortly before Isabel’s 18th birthday – Pedro launched the search for a husband for Isabel and Leopoldina. Two Princes were chosen and shipped to Brazil so that the Princesses could meet them. Although Pedro would have the final say in the matter, he did not wish to force them. The Princesses did not learn of all of this until just three weeks before Prince Gaston, Count of Eu and his cousin Prince Ludwig August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were due to arrive. They first met on 2 September 1864 before returning the following day for a longer meeting. Prince Gaston wrote home, “The princesses are ugly, but the second decidedly less attractive than the other, smaller, more stocky, and in sum less sympathetic.”2 Isabel married Prince Gaston, Count of Eu on 15 October 1864, while Leopoldina married Prince Ludwig August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 15 December 1864.

Grandchildren soon followed as Leopoldina gave birth to four sons in quick successions, but her marriage would be tragically short. Leopoldina died on 7 February 1871 of typhoid fever – still only 23 years old. Shortly after, Pedro and Teresa Cristina left for an extended trip to Europe. In July, they were received by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. She wrote of Teresa Cristina, “The Empress (a p.ss of Naples) is very kind & pleasing, so simple and unassuming. She is short & lame.”3 They travelled along the mainland of Europe, stopping at Coburg where Leopoldina was buried and Carlsbad where Teresa Cristina took the waters. Eventually, Isabel also gave birth to several children. Three sons survived to adulthood while her eldest daughter was stillborn.

By 1875, Teresa Cristina was suffering from ill-health. She was often confined to a chair due to pain in her legs, and she often spent time taking the waters. As Pedro caught the travel bug, Teresa Cristina often accompanied him part of the way and made stops at spas. The couple visited Queen Victoria again in 1877.

teresa cristina
(public domain)

On 15 November 1889, Pedro was deposed during a military coup. The family was informed that they had to leave Brazil as soon as possible. Isabel issued one final public message, “It is with my heart riven with sorrow that I take leave of my friends, of all Brazilians, and of the country that I have loved and love so much, and to the happiness of which I have striven to contribute and for which I will continue to hold the most ardent hopes.”4 Their exile began on board the Alagoas, which would take them to Europe.

On 7 December, the Alagoas arrived in Lisbon where they were received by Pedro’s great-nephew King Carlos I of Portugal. While Pedro and Teresa Cristina stayed, Isabel and her family travelled on for a visit to the south of Spain. Teresa Cristina was by now suffering from cardiac asthma and arthritis, and she had wanted nothing more than to end her days in Brazil. She had been broken by the recent events. On 18 December, Pedro recorded in his journal that he had to help Teresa Cristina “who was crying due to a most painful attack of asthma.”5 Nevertheless, she joined Pedro as he travelled to Coimbra. He returned after a day of sightseeing to find her “in bed due to her tiredness but without any sign of fever.”6 They travelled on to Porto where she arrived “visibly unwell.”7

When the news arrived that the family was banned from owning property in Brazil, Teresa Cristina’s will to live was broken once and for all. By the 28th, Teresa Cristina was bedbound and asked for a priest several times. Pedro ignored her requests and did not think it was serious. He did note in his journal that the room was only 7C (44.6F) and that there was condensation on the windows. He left her to go sightseeing again. At 2 in the afternoon, she suffered respiratory failure, which led to a cardiac arrest. A passing priest was found to give her final absolution, and she passed away that day. Despite Pedro’s behaviour earlier that day, he wrote “A gulf has opened in my life which I don’t know how to fill. I cannot wait to embrace my daughter. If only I could lessen my sorrow. Nothing can express how much I have lost.”8 He had taken Teresa Cristina for granted for so many years, and perhaps the guilt caught up with him now. He began referring to her as “my Saint.”

On 4 January 1890, she was given a state funeral in Lisbon. She was interred at São Vincente de Fora where Pedro would eventually rest beside her. Their bodies were returned to Brazil in 1939.

  1. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 35-36
  2. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 59
  3. Citizen Emperor by Roderick J. Barman p.237
  4. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 198
  5. Citizen Emperor by Roderick J. Barman p.370
  6. Citizen Emperor by Roderick J. Barman p.370
  7. Citizen Emperor by Roderick J. Barman p.370
  8. Citizen Emperor by Roderick J. Barman p.372

About Moniek Bloks 2744 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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